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Caregiver burnout

Care giving for a spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia raises the mortality of the spouse providing the care.

This is a very complex time in life. We often see a family caregiver who has lost weight, is sleep deprived and a has compromised immune system. It is ironic that the family caregiver’s health fails while their loved one is in relatively good health other than the effects of dementia.

Resentment can also set in on the caregiver. Irritability, hopelessness and helplessness also take over. Some are filled with anger, sadness, and a sense of failure. Depression is a risk as a result of these stressors, emotions and illnesses. It becomes clearer why caregiver mortality rises.

Studies show that mortality rises when a spouse is providing care for dementia.  Most studies show about a 63% increase in mortality for the caregiver in this type of situation.  Unfortunately it does not stop there.  A study done by The New England Journal of Medicine in 2006  shows that a wife’s risk of death is 61% greater during the first 30 day following the death of her husband.  While not as great, the husband’s risk is 53% following the 30 days after his wife passes.

Imagine planning for your golden years throughout your adult life. Perhaps you envisioned traveling the world on cruise ships, or seeing the USA in a RV, or even a simpler life puttering around in the garden, doing things you never had time for earlier. These visions fade because of a horrible disease.

Providing care for your spouse with dementia makes it difficult to sleep, shop, cook, and do most other activities that were routine and once taken for granted.  Socializing becomes a thing of the past. The caregiver stops going to church, family functions, and social events as a result of having to stay home to make sure their spouse is safe.  Isolation and burn-out can be self imposed because of the belief that no one can do it as well as a family member.

Furthermore, the family caregiver feels a loss of  identity as mom, dad, friend, confidant, grandma or grandpa when every ounce of energy is directed at caregiving.

There are devastating consequences to personally providing 24 hour care 7 days per week without getting outside help.

If you can identify with the above, take it upon yourself to get help. Many communities have caregiver support groups where you can find out how others cope successfully. Senior centers may offer day care and there are agencies where you can hire caregivers to give you a break by coming in for a few hours on a regular schedule. Assisted living facilities often have respite programs for overnight stays.

 

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Get Yourself Some Good Stress

Stress is commonly identified as the culprit behind poor health. It can weaken the immune system and make yourself vulnerable to a variety of diseases. Stress is not always bad. We need the right kind of stress to be healthy and live fulfilling lives, not to mention fight dementia. There is a word for this type of good stress. It is called eustress (eu is a  Greek root word for good.)

Stress can be fun. Why else would we want to ride a roller coaster or watch a thrilling movie? Excitement causes a rush of adrenaline which feels good.

The right amount of stress on the brain can help protect against cognitive decline. Stressing your brain to come up with words to fill out a crossword puzzle or keeping track of cards during a bridge game will provide stimulation to keep your brain healthy. The brain, even in old age, works to adapt and rewire itself when stimulated.

Exercise stresses the body in a good way. Muscles need stress to grow strong. Lifting weights stresses and tears muscle fibers. Resting the muscles after a workout promotes a healing process which strengthens muscles. Bones benefit from weight bearing and impact exercises. Stress on the bones promotes the deposit of proteins and increases bone density.

Aerobic exercise stresses the heart and lungs. The result is a stronger heart and increased energy.

Stretching stresses muscles to become longer and more flexible. Flexibility decreases the risk of injury by helping joints move through their full range of motion.

Challenging yourself to learn or do something new can be stressful. There is the fear of failure or the frustration of not getting it right. Successfully facing a challenge however, can bring a tremendous sense of satisfaction that is well worth the effort.

Making friends and developing relationships doesn’t come easy as you get older. It can stress your emotions to reach out to others, reveal personal strengths and frailties, and become vulnerable to rejection. The payoff is belonging to a community which supports you in good times and in bad.

Good stresses in life help to reduce harmful stress. Living a safe and sedentary life does not provide the stimulation and outlet to manage harmful stress. Experts who give advice on stress management emphasize making friends and developing a support base, learning ways to build satisfaction, exercising, playing games and finding ways to have fun.

Is it a coincidence that giving the brain this good stress, exercising, making friends and having strong community ties are ways to fight dementia? I think not.

 

 

 

 

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